Serial entrepreneur, Bobbi Jo Matheson, opened the Alberta College of Body Art, Canada’s first and only provincially licensed post-secondary tattoo training facility in Grande Prairie’s City Centre. Her vision for the facility developed after experiencing challenges with accessing tattoo training in pursuit of becoming a tattoo artist 11 years ago.
“The problem with the tattoo industry back in the day was you could want to be a [tattoo artist], but unless you knew someone in the industry that was willing to help you with it, there was no entry for me,” Bobbi Jo said.
“Human nature is pretty resilient, people will find a way, regardless of if the door shuts on them, and that’s what I did and it was a very long learning curve,” Bobbi Jo admitted.
“Canada is a little bit behind in terms of formal education for tattoo artists and piercers. This may be the first [post-secondary tattoo training facility] in Canada, but it isn’t the first one globally, the US and Europe have similar facilities to mine.”
Bobbi Jo started as an independent licensed tattoo artist serving clients in her basement shop. Ready for growth, she opened Cree8iv Ink Body Studio (Cree8iv Ink), a family-operated, non-traditional tattoo business, in downtown Grande Prairie in 2015.
After running the business for 2 years Bobbi Jo started to develop a tattoo training program. In 2019, she started to leverage the Cree8iv Ink space to offer her first in-take, but it came with challenges.
“I wanted to expand when I realized this space was not seen as an educational space,” Bobbi explained. “With only the capacity for four students and capacity for one program offering a year, we were lacking.”
Bobbi Jo had to face the decision of compromising her vision to a scaled-down version or go forward with her big vision to create a post-secondary tattoo training facility.
“I decided that I was going to use my skills and experience to help other aspiring artists because I remember how hard it was 11 years ago when there weren’t any resources for up-and-coming tattoo artists,” Bobbi Jo shared. “I didn’t want to be someone who hoarded my skills and my knowledge when I can help a younger version of myself.”
They moved the training program from the Cree8iv Ink space of approximately 1,000 sq ft to a location a block away that was just over 7,000 sq ft. The business case for the additional space was the capability to expand the training program to include a piercing component, offer separate continuing education workshops for current tattoo artists, host indigenous programming and provide rental space for the community.
“We restructured the program to include training for piercing,” Bobbi Jo added. “Now the base course is a body modification course, then once they are done the basic structure of the course students branch off into their specializations whether that be tattooing or piercing.”
Alberta College of Body Art offers a 6-month certificate program, which is equivalent to a 3-year apprenticeship with added career components. The program is student loan eligible and accepts four in-takes per year. They have seen applicants from across Canada enrolling with varying skills from entry-level to those with art degrees.
“I was pleasantly surprised, like, heartwarmingly surprised at the business community and how encouraging and welcoming they were with everything that I've done to date.” Bobbi Jo expressed.
“I've never felt out of place or unwelcome. I've had so many people reach out to me, just to see how I was doing and offer encouraging words.”
Bobbi Jo has called Grande Prairie home for over 30 years and explained that she couldn’t have seen herself running the business anywhere else.
“Grande Prairie is an innovative, young city with a lot of opportunities. It was very helpful for me to be able to grow the business here. We are pioneers with a lot of the work we have done in Grande Prairie already, so it was just fitting for us to continue to do business here.”
Learn more about the Alberta College of Body Art by visiting their website.